With just two seniors on the Ward Melville softball roster, first year head coach Joseph Burger will lean on the under classman to make a significant contribution, as the Patriots field two juniors, four freshman and three eighth graders, to help make some noise in League I this season.
Burger, who coached at McGann-Mercy last season, knows he’s got his work cut out for him as he looks to build a program with a very young squad in a preseason where all of his practices have been indoors.
“We haven’t been outside yet, so we’ve only been able to hit in the net — you don’t get the same kind of grounders that you get outside,” senior shortstop Brianna Dade said. “It’s not the same feel and it’s a lot harder; you’re in a closed area you’ve got the [overhead] lights so it’s totally different.”
Burger said that his team will fundraise in the off-season to travel to Disney for spring training, which will become part of the Patriots preseason preparation.
“We’ve made changes already,” Burger said. “We have new dugouts, new uniforms, new helmets; which is all part of our new direction [we’re headed in]. I coached a travel team for 10 years where I took my team to Disney several years and it’s a way to show the team how this is a year-round program. It adds value and it’s a good way to recruit players.”
Although Burger said softball isn’t as big at Ward Melville as other sports, his girls put in a lot of effort and are ready to win.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t be successful with softball,” Burger said of the sports lower popularity. “These girls work hard, they’re fast, they aim to please, they don’t take anything personal and they listen to direction and act on it.”
Dade said that although there are a lot of younger girls on the team, she thinks its small stature and speed will be an advantage as the Patriots play a lot of small ball.
Kristina Maggiacomo, an eighth-grader, will be tested right from the season opener as a starting pitcher and infielder. Despite starting two eighth graders, senior left fielder Mary Garr was optimistic about her teams’ chances of success this season.
“Every team we’ll face this year will be a challenge, but our pitching is definitely better and we try our hardest,” Garr said. “You have to play at 100 percent with every pitch, with every catch and with every throw if you want to win.”
According to Burger, the team’s leaders are Garr, junior first baseman Natalie Rodgers and junior pitcher Lauren Vivenzio, who will also be counted on to anchor a young pitching staff.
Burger said that if his team plays strong defense, and doesn’t hurt itself with errors, the Patriots can expect to win every time they take the field. Rodgers agreed, adding that she sees every girl giving each practice 100 percent.
“I think we have a lot of potential,” she said, although concerned about the lack of outdoor practice. “The ball’s slower on the dirt, but in here [on the gym floor] it really rolls, so it’s faster and it’s hard on the outfielders. You really can’t practice catching fly balls because of the ceiling.”
The young squad will be tested in its home opener on Thursday, when the patriots host Commack at 4:15 p.m.